should’ve, could’ve, would’ve

(Alternative title: Mom, don’t read this post! Really, I’m fine!)

This doesn’t really have anything to do with it, but earlier in the day, a French boy staying at my hostel came on to me too strongly, and it made me feel uncomfortable. He was crude, pushy, and stoned, and I didn’t like the idea that he knew exactly where I was sleeping that night. I removed myself from the situation, but it was not the best introduction to the city.


When you’re a girl traveling by yourself, people give you lots of safety advice: don’t tell people you’re traveling alone, or where you’re staying, or how old you are. But these people are usually imagining a creepy conversation with the taxi driver or bartender or local on the street. I’ve found that on the rare occasions that I have felt unsafe, it’s usually the other travelers who have made my skin crawl. They are the ones who have access to your stuff, your bed, your life story. Because if you can’t trust them, you’re living your whole life in lies, and then you really are alone.


That night I ran into a friend I had made on the slowboat, one I didn’t even know was in the same city, and we spent the evening talking at a bar and trying really hard to like this place. Vang Vieng is like a citywide frat party of the worst kind and I wanted to be more excited about it, but the makeup and hair gel and tank tops and beer pong and shotgunning seemed depressing in the middle of a third-world country of beautiful mountains and stunning rivers.

I remember talking about how I’ve been very mindful about staying positive through my whole trip, though, and how I did still love Laos, even if this city wasn’t for me.


My friend was walking me back to my hostel around midnight when the motorbike raced up behind me and the man on the back pulled my bag off my shoulder before I even knew what was happening. I must have screamed, because a group of travelers came running over. I was 50 meters from my hostel.


The friend who was with me stayed for two more hours as I alternated crying and moaning and feeling terrible. We are attached to the stupidest things, really, and instead of mourning the loss of my three-year-old phone—and photos and music and messages—I should be grateful for the boy who spent the night sitting with me in a foreign country when he barely knew me.


I should’ve been wearing my bag more securely. And I could’ve been more attentive to my surroundings, maybe. But I was doing everything else right. I wasn’t alone. I was on a main road. It wasn’t too late or too dark. And I had made a special trip back to the hostel before dinner to deposit my ATM card and extra cash to my locker (which was also holding my passport). So I lost my bag and my phone and about $10USD, but really, I was lucky.

During the same time I was in Vang Vieng, a girl I knew took a drunken ride home with a stranger and found herself robbed and raped. Another guy got his phone lifted from the charger at the foot of his bed at his hostel. And another had his phone taken from his bag when he was asleep on the minibus. A boy in my hostel went tubing and ended up with a concussion when he dove into the river.

When I was in Luang Prabang, a Korean tourist drowned after jumping into the river on a rope swing. In Chiang Mai, I met a couple who were T-boned by a car when they drove their motorbike through an intersection. And another friend lost his phone and camera at the Full Moon Party on Koh Pha Ngan.

But I’ve also had my car window smashed twice in Houston, and my passport stolen. I lost my wallet in Stamford and in Cleveland. And I dropped my phone in the toilet in Singapore.

All of these things aren’t necessarily equal, but there are dangers everywhere.


In terms of loss, this should be just like if I had dropped my phone in the toilet—except it’s not, exactly. You feel violated, being robbed. Like no matter what, you’re never really safe. I slept in those streets, walked them alone, and with all of my possessions. I trusted people and I always trust myself. And then something like this happens, and I feel myself falling apart.


You know when you’re sick, and you think, “When I’m better, I promise I’ll appreciate my health—I’ll notice how nice it is when I can breathe through my nose and when my throat isn’t raw and when I can eat solid foods.” But then you get better, and you still take it all for granted.

Except I have been appreciating. I was so grateful for my bag—it was perfect for what I needed it for and I remember thinking that almost every day. And my phone was the only valuable thing I carried, regardless of how old it was. Sometimes I think that if you appreciate things, bad things won’t happen. But I know that’s just naivity.


I am naive. For a bit that night, I hoped that maybe the two men would come back and give me my phone. What did they need it for, anyway? I just want the pictures.


This was not a personal attack. I think that is the hardest thing to wrap my head around. This is not karma or fate or Santa’s naughty and nice list—it just is. And I’m still a good person even though it happened.


I hate how this situation has shaken my confidence and made me go running to boys. I checked out of my dorm bed the next day to feel secure in a private bungalow with a friend, something I haven’t needed my entire trip. I finally opened the letter from him that I’d been keeping like a security blanket—and I hate how it was only the loss of property, of nostalgia, that brought me to this point after five and a half months on my own. And, of course, I thought about calling you, but perhaps that was only because this is the first time when I literally can’t.


So now what? I don’t want to lose my sense of wonder because of this. I don’t want to live paranoid and afraid. I don’t want to doubt people and take precautions that lessen my trip.

And I don’t want to want to go home, like I do right now. I want a happy ending.

So, I guess, I will buy a new phone in Hanoi, accept my lack of pictures of Laos, and continue on.


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